Posts for December 2005

2005-12-01: remctl 1.10

Nothing particularly earth-shattering, but I rewrote all of the error handling to use the message library that I put together for INN and that makes everything so much nicer. This was the first step towards breaking the client pieces out into a separate library, although more work will be needed. While I was at it, I also gave both programs real option handling.

One interesting thing: after a discussion on debian-devel about unnecessary shared library dependencies, I added a new configure option that, if used, causes remctl to link only with -lgssapi_krb5. That's the only library that remctl calls into directly; everything else is just tracing the dependencies of that library. You have to link with all the dependencies if linking static or shared on a platform without shared library dependencies, but on Linux (on Debian at least), it's unnecessary and adds more dependencies to break when shared library changes. In particular, it leaves the package dependent on libcomerr, which isn't necessary; the Kerberos libraries will pull one in. So the new Debian package is built using this option, as my small contribution to improving the library tangle.

You can get the new version from the remctl distribution page.

I've also uploaded new Debian packages, which now split the package into remctl-server and remctl-client (with a transition package for upgrades). Since this means new binary packages, they're waiting in NEW at the moment.

2005-12-03: kftgt 1.10

A maintenance release with no real user-visible changes. I added the same --enable-reduced-depends flag that I implemented for remctl to cut down on the shared library dependencies, and I figured that while I was at it I would clean up the compiler warnings. No real reason to upgrade.

You can get the latest version from the kftgt distribution page.

2005-12-08: Life update

I haven't posted a journal entry in a while. Y'all might be wondering what's happened to me.

My parents were down last weekend and we had a wonderful visit, including seeing the 1,064-year-old tree that Palo Alto is named after, taking my parents to Ikea for the first time (and getting a nice wall-mounted display case), and taking quite a bit of art to a local store to have framed. That's, not surprisingly, been somewhat distracting. I now I have a nice new top for my desk, thanks to my dad, and I've finally replaced my horrid old serial mouse with a USB trackball and upgraded the kernel to 2.6 on my home desktop system. (Bad choice of motherboards.)

All of my (or co-maintained) Debian packages except libpam-krb5 are now updated to fix my misunderstanding of policy, and in the process I made various improvements to several. The bug count for krb5 is now nicely low again, and even the openafs bug count isn't too bad. A new upload of libpam-krb5 is waiting on decisions about whether to work around PAM bugs in openssh (I think that upstream for libpam-krb5 is going to want the workaround regardless, though).

With that done, I'm now finally working on the AFS man pages. I have an initial conversion checked into CVS, but it's pretty bad. I'm about 10 man pages away from finishing the first editing pass of all of the section one man pages, and expect to commit that tomorrow. Section eight probably won't be done until next week sometime, and section five shortly after that. Once that's done, we should have fairly solid man pages for everything in AFS and can then start bringing them up to date for all of the development that's happened since. (Not to mention start going over them for nits and getting HTML conversion working well.)

I'm caught up on posting reviews, although I do have one magazine review to write for a magazine that I finished a few days back. That's why the flow of reviews has slowed down. I'm still working on Vellum by Hal Duncan, which is spectacularly good but requires attentive reading and hasn't been going very quickly while I've been distracted by other things. I expect I'll finish it this weekend, and then my rate of finishing books will probably increase again.

One more week of work and then I'll be on vacation for the whole Christmas break, although I'll be on call for part of that period and may do a few things over the break. We'll see. I really would like to get some work done on INN, but AFS and then SPNEGO for WebAuth take higher priority right now.

2005-12-09: OpenAFS man pages

I finally found enough time to really kick off the OpenAFS man page project. A new conversion of all of the man pages from the existing HTML Administration Reference has been committed to the OpenAFS trunk, and I've finished the format and markup editing pass for all the section one man pages. That took me a day, so I expect there are two more days worth of intensive editing to do for section five and section eight. I'm planning on doing that next week.

The section one pages are ready for review, although I'm probably not going to work on them more until after I finish the first editing pass of the other pages. But I think we're actually going to get fairly reasonable (if still somewhat out of date) man pages and hopefully a good HTML conversion of the same into 1.4.1.

Now, hopefully other people will step forward and volunteer to help out with bits of this, particularly now that the man pages are in a format that should be fairly easy to edit.

2005-12-10: Catching up

Getting there. After many weeks of limited productivity for various reasons (sick with a cold, company, more interested in reading, vacation), I'm finally getting on a roll. I didn't do more OpenAFS man page work today, but that's because I finished the laundry, actually exercised like I want to, finished Vellum, did some OpenAFS gatekeeper work, did a little Debian work, and got my inbox down to 10 messages from nearly 50. A very good weekend's work, and it's only Saturday.

Now, since someone contributed a spec file for kstart, I'm trying to figure out if I can build an RPM on a Debian system using alien.

Tomorrow, maybe I'll do man pages while I watch football. Or maybe I'll do something else, like INN work, which also hasn't gotten attention in far too long.

It's nice to feel productive.

2005-12-11: faq2html 1.24 and spin 1.61

Aren't surprises fun. Apparently at some point CVS changed the format of dates in Id keyword expansion from using slashes to using dashes. Now, I don't object to this change in general. Dashes are the international standard after all. However, didn't anyone think that, er, maybe someone might be parsing that data?

Also, I'm pretty sure that this happened in 1:1.12.9-17 in Debian, but observe the complete lack of a changelog mention. Maybe it's accidental? Maybe it's Debian-specific? Who knows?

Maybe this behavior will disappear again. Hard to tell. But anyway, I've released new versions of faq2html and spin that can deal with both slashes and dashes, and now I'm going to go back to not thinking about this.

You can get the latest versions from my web tools distribution page.

2005-12-11: Bookstore sale haul

The Stanford Bookstore had a sale for faculty and staff a few days ago and since another coworker was going, I went along.

Elizabeth Bear -- Scardown (sff)
Elizabeth Bear -- Worldwired (sff)
Jon Courtenay Grimwood -- redRobe (sff)
China Miéville -- King Rat (sff)
China Miéville -- Looking for Jake (sff)
L.E. Modesitt, Jr. -- Flash (sff)
Neal Stephenson & J. Frederick George -- Interface (thriller)
Gene Wolfe -- Latro in the Mist (sff)

When I first started building up a library, I bought a lot of paperbacks, many of them used. I'm noticing that I'm slowly starting to buy more nice copies of books, trade paperbacks and hardcovers. It slows how many books I pick up, since I'm buying much faster than reading. And it's nice to see them on the shelves. The only drawback is that I can't read hardcovers or large trade paperbacks some places where I can read paperbacks, but I've got plenty of those still.

Anyway, the Wolfe replaces the first paperback of the series that's collected there. The Stephenson is one of the books he wrote with his uncle under the pen name Stephen Bury; I'm not sure yet if it's a triller like Zodiac or has a more SFnal tone.

I now have all of Miéville's books, but have only read two of them. Must get cracking.

Vellum was spectacular; I may write that review tomorrow.

Currently reading: The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson.

2005-12-13: Vellum

Review: Vellum, by Hal Duncan

Publisher: Macmillan
Copyright: 2005
ISBN: 1-4050-5334-8
Pages: 502

For once, the back cover blurb not only caught my attention but does a decent job at telling the reader about the book.

In the Vellum -- the vast realm of eternity on which our world is just a scratch -- the unkin are gathering for war.

In the Vellum, a falling angel and a renegade devil are about to come to blows.

In the Vellum, blood magic made in hell is about to come face to face with nanotechnology forged in heaven. Past, present and future will collide with other worlds and ancient myths.

And the Vellum will burn.

This is not a book that I would have found on my own. I got it via Emerald City and had no idea what to expect. After that back cover blurb and the gorgeous printing job Macmillan did, I was already excited. After the prelude, I was enthralled.

I think angels and Christian mythology, particularly subversive takes on them, are sadly underused in fiction, so I get excited whenever I see a book willing to tackle that mythology head on. Until this book, the best I'd found was the In Nomine role-playing game, and looking to role-playing games for one's storytelling fix is inevitably disappointing. The mechanics show through too much. Philip Pullman verged on this sort of book in His Dark Materials and then immediately swerved away again, writing something very different. Ducan doesn't swerve. Vellum goes crashing straight into the mythology of angels, demons, spiritual war, choosing sides, and glorious subversive moral ambiguity without even slowing down. This is the book that I was hoping Pullman was going to write, only written for adults and considerably better.

Duncan doesn't stop there, either. There's Sumerian mythology, Greek mythology, shamanism, body art, Matthew Shephard, VR avatars, World War I, secret explorations in the Caucasus, the Spanish Civil War, Irish independence movements, and a stunner of a world exploration subplot that leaves the mind reeling. And oh yes, Duncan throws in not only nanotech but grey goo, ties this in to Sumerian and Greek mythology, and uses it as a character, and it works. Not only does he pull it off, he occasionally writes descriptions so powerful that I had to stop reading for a moment until the frisson of pure joy passed. It's that good.

I must warn, there's a downside: the story is also difficult and confusing. Vellum is fragmented and extremely non-linear, written primarily about characters who become mythic archetypes and reverberate forward and backward through the story. The order of events and the connections between instantiations of the same character are unclear, often maddeningly so; the reader who doesn't spend most of this book hopelessly confused is far better at this than I. It's not purely a mismash: one can untangle most of Phreedom's story by the end, for instance, and Reynard's journey through the Vellum is told in refreshing intervals of linearity even if it's baffling how it connects to the rest of the story. When Seamus takes the forefront towards the end of the book, everything becomes much less confusing when one realizes that we're going to get his background and history told in flashbacks interwoven with flashbacks of the history of one of the many Jacks. But this is real work to figure out. Vellum does not try to be easy for the reader.

It also helps to be familiar with mythology. There are three major mythological retellings here: the Sumerian story of Inanna's journey into the underworld and the related story of her brother/lover/son Tammuz, the story of Prometheus from Greek mythology, and Virgil's "The Golden Age Returns" and "The Song of Silenus." I knew Prometheus fairly well, and having just read Snow Crash, I had the benefit of Stephenson's crash course in Sumerian mythology. The Virgil was entirely unfamiliar, and as a result I found that the most confusing section of the book. I highly recommend brushing up on the above bits of mythology before or while you're reading, at least to the degree of spending some time in Wikipedia.

This all sounds very intimidating, and perhaps it should. Vellum requires work to piece together.

My grandfather didn't write his journal in a book but on loose leaves of paper. There are pages torn from hotels' headed notepads, foolscap, A4, Letter, tiny fragments on lined pages ripped from little notebooks.

Relics, he writes on the page I place beside the interview like the next piece of the jigsaw puzzle....

When you read that, you'll know exactly how the character feels. If this is more work than you're prepared to go, or if you're not sufficiently used to mythological archetypes and SF tropes that you can handle being thrown into the deep end and expected to swim, Vellum may not be the best book to try.

But if you are, oh, it's worth it.

Duncan is often obscure and fractured, but he occasionally manages description that reads like poetry, long strings of cascading metaphor and imagry that one can savor like fine wine. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it's beautiful. I will always remember Reynard's first encounter with the Book of All Hours, even if I'm still mystified as to its role in the larger story. Or when Phreedom stops time in the exploding remains of a tattoo parlor. Or the glorious moment when Seamus's past fits together in a towering defense of rebellion, in a passionate statement of defiance against authority that had as much impact on me as anything in Milton. Or the pure idea of the Cant, a way of capturing the substrate of the universe and the power of angels in something both amenable to SF exploitation and perfectly suited for mythic themes, a concept that takes everything that clicked about the In Nomine Symphony and then transcends it.

I had to read this book like epic poetry rather than novel prose, managing perhaps 50 or 75 pages a night before my brain was simply too full to handle any more. (In fact, for reasons that I can't entirely explain, Vellum reminded me a great deal of reading T.S. Eliot -- not "Prufrock," but "The Waste Land" or, even more so, "The Hollow Men.") Having finished it, I'm sorely tempted to re-read it immediately, both to savor the language some more and in the hope that more will make sense the second time through. I never did figure out quite what was going on with the changing fonts, although they clearly follow a pattern, and I'm convinced that the alignment of the section headings was a valuable but undecyphered clue to the "level" or "perspective" from which that section was written....

This is only the first book of a series, and it leaves essentially everything unresolved. It doesn't truly end, although some of the major plot arcs reach clear points of transition. I'm desperate for Ink to be published. At the same time, I can't say I felt cheated by the ending, or felt like the book simply cut off in the middle. Vellum does give the reader something of a thematic climax and conclusion even if it's lacking the same for the plot.

I agree with the Emerald City review: Vellum is unfortunately unlikely to win any of the popular vote awards. It's just too difficult of reading, and it's an unclassifiable mix of non-traditional fantasy and smatterings of SF that doesn't fit into any standard mold. Stunningly, though, for something this audaciously ambitious (to borrow Cheryl Morgan's apt phrase), this is Duncan's first novel, and I hope it will at least score a Campbell nomination. Frustrating and difficult it may be, this is the best mythic fantasy novel that I've read this year, and one of the best I've ever read.

If you're willing to put the work into reading it, if you like mixings of mythology and science fiction, if you want to try something that's unlike anything else I've read recently in the genre, search this out. It's unforgettable.

Rating: 9 out of 10

2005-12-14: Vacation near

I've finished first-pass editing of all of the OpenAFS man pages. I just need to do a final check-over tomorrow and make sure that everything looks reasonable, and then it's time to publically plead for proofreaders and updates. Oh, and start working on HTML conversion.

I've fixed a problem I introduced with my INN work on Sunday, and I think we should be pretty much ready for a 1.4.3 release.

The WebAuth SPNEGO implementation now no longer trusts anyone connecting to the WebKDC and does things the right way, and it wasn't even too tricky to debug. And a fixed libapache-mod-auth-kerb has been uploaded to unstable and krb5 can stop blocking KDE now.

That means that, except for some little things for K5 that I'm going to do tomorrow, I've now done everything that I really needed to do before going on vacation. So tomorrow will be devoted to cleaning those few things up, having dinner with friends, and then packing, possibly shelving books if I have time. And then Friday I'm travelling, and then I'm on vacation until 2006 except for being on call for the second week (which shouldn't require me to do much).

2005-12-18: Asimov's, September 2005

Review: Asimov's Science Fiction, September 2005

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 29, No. 9
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 144

Robert Silverberg has more this month on Robert Burton, which continued to be quite interesting. Also rather interesting was James Patrick Kelly's article on SETI. I do dislike the style Asimov's uses for the "On the Net" column, though. Inline URLs works fine in HTML, but in a printed article they should be collected at the end or at least presented in some way that doesn't constantly cause ugly word-wrapping. Paul Di Filippo's book column is longer than average this month, but for some reason it didn't really grab me.

On the stories, there are a two this month from major writers who aren't seen as often (Frederick Pohl and Brian W. Aldiss). One really can tell that a story has been written by a veteran author. There's a certain polish that shows regardless of the subject matter. The whole issue was of a consistent high quality. There was one excellent story and only one real miss for me.

"Generations" by Frederick Pohl: Speaking of polish, Pohl certainly knows how to tell a story. I enjoyed this one quite a lot even though nothing was really happening for much of it. I'm not sure why Pohl chose to use the generational approach to tell this story, since the premise that finally comes out doesn't seem to require it. Still, an amusing and unusual (if not completely original) explanation of how the universe came about is offered and the resulting social satire entertained me. Pohl went more for poking fun than serious extrapolation, and the resulting politics were a touch cartoonish in places, but I was satisfied. (7)

"Finished" by Robert Reed: I'm amazed at how Reed can keep turning out quality short stories with original ideas at the pace that he does. This is another solid idea exploration, this time of a curious form of technological undeath and its implications, and the emotional twist at the end has a nasty barb. Well worth reading. (7)

"Pipeline" by Brian W. Aldiss: This turned out to be a nearly pure travel story. I thought there'd be a bit more in the way of politics and intrigue, but apart from one quickly resolved action sequence, it's primarily a tour along a hypothetical Middle East pipeline to the Mediterranean. Aldiss is a good travel writer, though, and I liked the journey, even if I wish it had had a bit more. (7)

"The Company Man" by John Philip Olsen: I know very little about art, so I wasn't sure about a story that clearly was going to focus on the art of Edvard Munch. I need not have worried; the descriptions of the paintings were excellent and didn't require that one had already seen them. The plot, about alien art buying, and the message were both very predictable, which was a drawback. Still, satisfying ending. (7)

"Second Person, Present Tense" by Daryl Gregory: In an issue featuring both Pohl and Aldiss, Gregory managed the best story. (At least in my opinion; it features a viewpoint character of a type that I love, so I'm biased.) This was a great story about the emotional consequences of total amnesia, blended with some fascinating speculation about the nature of consciousness and identity. The ending was happy in a way that felt a wee bit forced given what happened before, but I appreciated the happy ending since the rest of the story was an emotional wringer. Great stuff with a memorable premise; worth seeking out. (9)

"A Rocket for the Republic" by Lou Antonelli: A short and amusing tall tale about an experimental rocket and an encounter with aliens in the early 1800s. There's not a lot here, but it was good for a laugh. (6)

"Harvest Moon" by William Barton: Sorry, I just don't care this much about the space program. If you live and breathe rocketry, can recite the hardware involved in various eras of space exploration, and want to read and alternate history, full of hard-bitten explorer-engineer types, of what could have happened in the space program if we'd stranded a colony on the Moon, you may want to look for this one. I found it boring and tedious, mostly because I just don't care. The epilogue explaining the derivation of the history salvages it somewhat; this should be a more common feature in alternate histories. (3)

Rating: 7 out of 10

2005-12-19: The Diamond Age

Review: The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson

Publisher: Bantam
Copyright: February 1995
ISBN: 0-553-57331-4
Pages: 499

The world of The Diamond Age is set far enough into the future that nanotechnology is ubiquitous. Each home, even poor apartments, has an assembler that can construct basic items from pre-programmed recipes and a city-wide feed of raw materials. Nations have splintered into smaller groups, some sticking to old nation boundaries and some highly dispersed geographically. One of the most influential is the Victorians, a group very strong in nanotechnology and interested in using the strictures of Victorian morality and ethics to apply structure to a world that seems dangerously unstructured.

A Victorian engineer has designed his greatest work as the story opens, a Young Lady's Primer that's designed to bond with and educate a young girl, telling and adapting stories to teach her how to thrive and survive in Victorian society. The Primer is for the daughter of a Victorian lord, but while trying to create a copy for his own daughter, the engineer loses a copy. That copy falls into the hands of a poor Shanghai girl named Nell.

The Diamond Age, while still featuring the occasional odd bit of world background or technical description, has a notably different tone than Stephenson's earlier (or later) work. He tried for a tone between Victorian and the very formal Western notion of wise Chinese philosophy; sometimes it's funny and sometimes it's annoying. The air of vague formality fits the descriptions of Victorian culture and sets off the violence in Nell's life in a way that makes some of her background more poignant (and I liked the old-style summaries at the start of each chapter), but it also lacks the manic energy and excellent pacing of Snow Crash and has notably fewer fascinating digressions. From time to time, the plot and action dragged noticably.

By far the best part of this book is Nell, particularly her actions in the real world based on what she learned from the Primer. The Primer is an excellent concept, intellectually interesting for the way that it weaves together didactic tales and training exercises from Nell's life. After one works out what it's doing and how, it does gets a little repetative, but it still serves as a dry counter-balance to Nell's complex and messy life. Mixed into the story, Stephenson is saying some insightful things about the interaction between people and education, and the difference between learning and experience. The Primer's advice frequently only works because Nell (and, unknowingly, the actor Miranda) give it a human twist. Other Primers lack that emotional connection, resulting in much different outcomes for the girls who own them.

Unfortunately, Stephenson spends much of the book on weaker plots and squanders some excellent opportunities. The strongest emotional attachment in the book for me was with Miranda, an actor who is hired anonymously to read the stories in the Primer, not knowing what sort of job she's doing. She develops a strong emotional bond with Nell, and in time realizes that she's essentially raising Nell like a mother (Nell's father is dead and her mother goes through an endless series of abusive boyfriends). Nell thinks of her brutal life as normal and Miranda is shocked and deeply scared for her when she understands glimmers of it through the Primer acting assignments. The contrast highlights Nell's experience and forms a strong emotional hook.

Unfortunately, Miranda's search for Nell gets side-tracked and sucked into the weakest plot of the book, namely the Drummers. I suppose I understand where Stephenson was going with the idea of organic computing and subconscious communication, but I would have enjoyed this book much more if the Drummers had been left out entirely. Several main characters get sidetracked for annoying lengths of time into extended orgies with unconscious hive minds, and the influence this has on the overall plot varies between incomprehensible and annoyingly simple-minded. The only good part of the whole thing was Hackworth's subconscious communication with the Primer, and there were other, more interesting ways in which that could be handled.

The other plots aren't as annoying, but they often seem pointless. Hackworth, the Victorian engineer, could have been a more central figure but was mostly sidetracked. The secretive CryptNet organization is introduced and then never used. The Shanghai judge is a cliche, if an amusing one, and abruptly disappears halfway through the book. I wanted to read the story about Nell, Miranda, and the Primer; I only parts of that story in threads mixed with a lot of world setting and background that was competent but just not as interesting.

Even more frustrating is the lack of an adequate ending. After a nice set piece of epic confrontation in the streets of Shanghai, Stephenson leaves the reader with a scant, half-hearted climax to Nell and Miranda's story, including none of the emotion, attachment, or denouement that the reader has been waiting for. The other characters are simply dropped. One doesn't find out what happens to most of them, the abrupt ending leaves no time for emotional payoff, and Miranda ends up with a replaceable bit role in her own finale. Ugh.

This is still a good book. The Primer is a wonderful concept, Nell is a strong lead character, and even with the botched ending, the mediated interaction between Nell and Miranda is fascinating and tugs on the heartstrings as well as anything Stephenson has written. It just could have been better, and that's frustrating. There are top-notch ideas here, but I prefer the tone and digressions of Stephenson's other books.

Rating: 7 out of 10

2005-12-21: kftgt 1.11

A report from Ben Pfaff on problems forwarding tickets through NAT got me to investigate and release another version. In the process, I fixed a stupid configure error in the last version, made it build static against MIT Kerberos 1.4, cleaned up error handling a little, and simplified the version reporting code.

You can get the current version from the kftgt distribution page.

I also thought I fixed builddir != srcdir problems, but then I found another problem right after I uploaded the new version to Debian. *sigh*. Oh well, I'll probably use that as an excuse to clean up the code and do a probably final release before the new year.

2005-12-22: remctl 1.11

Well, I was going to spend the day working on OpenAFS packages and backporting my man page work from OpenAFS CVS into the Debian packages. However, I started poking at remctl to fix a stupid getopt problem (why does Linux getopt have to behave differently than every other platform?), decided to write a generic Kerberos library Autoconf macro, decided to handle Heimdal as well, and then got distracted trying to port remctl to Heimdal.

Unfortunately, I got mixed results with that. remctl will now build against Heimdal, but when I try to use a Heimdal client against an MIT server, gss_unwrap on the server returns a bad token error. I'm not at all sure what's going on and am going to need some advice from someone who knows Heimdal better to figure out how to fix it.

Oh well, at least it's closer, and it means that I can use the same macros with the other Kerberos packages I maintain, after I add a few additional options to allow for packages wanting things other than just GSSAPI libraries. And while I was in that code anyway, I decided to add include support to ACL file parsing on the server to close the one Debian wishlist bug.

You can get the latest version from the remctl distribution page. I expect this will be the last release before 2.0, which will feature a new wire protocol (with fallback to the old protocol) and a separate client library that other programs can link with, probably with Perl bindings.

2005-12-23: svnlog 1.9

Teemu Matilainen pointed out that the configuration parsing code mostly wasn't working, and after one false start, I figured out why and fixed it. Too sensitive dependence on ways of saying things elsewhere in the script. Also, the Debian package was missing a dependency and needed a tighter dependency on Perl.

You can get the latest version from the svnlog distribution page, and I've also uploaded a new Debian package to my personal repository. I wonder if it would be worth putting this into Debian proper. Hm.

2005-12-23: Ooo, shiny

I'm theoretically on vacation, but I hit a real productivity streak, so I'm letting it play out and not worrying about the fact that I'm doing tons of work and not as much standard vacation stuff like reading. It will all sort out in the long run, and getting things done is a lot of fun. Of course, the other effect of this is that I'm bouncing from task to task and keep finding something else to do....

Today, I wrote a patch to fix lintian's checks for build-depends-indep after running into a false positive while sponsoring someone else's package. Then I wanted to start working on the INN 2.4.3 release, but that reminded me that I needed svn2cl to generate the ChangeLog. So I hunted down a copy of that, and then realized it would be fairly easy to package for Debian.

One man page and a quick packaging later, I had a fairly nice, tested package. Full of enthusiasm to go back to working on INN, I go upload it so that it will sit in NEW and then send a note to the maintainer making sure they're okay with this -- mistake, and I even thought at the time that I should mail the maintainer and wait for them to respond before actually uploading it. *sigh*. Should have listened to that.

Turns out the maintainer is actually a Debian developer. Urk. Obviously uploading a package of his software before even asking him isn't at all kosher. *embarassed look*

So I've now sent a note off to the ftp-masters asking them to reject or sit on that package for the time being and my mail to the maintainer is a bit more apologetic, and I feel kind of dumb. Oh well, there are worse mistakes I could be making.

svn2cl is really nice, though. It does exactly what I want and it's much simpler than cvs2cl to deal with.

2005-12-24: INN 2.4.3 release candidate

Finally, I've done the last few things required to put out a release candidate. If anyone has a test server and is in a position to give it a shot, please download ftp://ftp.isc.org/isc/inn/testing/inn-2.4.3.tar.gz and let me know if you run into any problems. I'm hoping to put out a full release around the middle of next week.

Now to go work on News::Gateway some. Of course, I still haven't finished that OpenAFS Debian package upload, I need to do another release of remctl, and I have kstart, kftgt to revisit, and possibly sident to look at. It's been a very productive vacation.

2005-12-30: Anansi Boys

Review: Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman

Publisher: William Morrow
Copyright: 2005
ISBN: 0-06-051518-X
Pages: 336

Fat Charlie really doesn't like his nickname. For one thing, he's not fat, and hasn't been since a brief period in his adolescence. For another thing, he can't manage to get rid of it. You see, his father called him that, and for some reason names his father give stick. Fat Charlie also isn't particularly fond of his father. He's not an evil person. He's just hideously embarassing, and has been all of Fat Charlie's life. He delighted in playing pranks on Fat Charlie throughout his childhood, many of which were embarassing indeed.

However, Fat Charlie doesn't mind his life. He has a fiancé and a not uncomfortable life, even if he's never been particularly successful. He does hate his job, and particularly his boss, but he manages.

Then his father dies, in a particularly embarassing way. And after the funeral, he discovers that his father was a god. Anansi, to be precise, the African spider trickster god. Also, he has a brother that he never knew about, a brother who is a god himself, who's outgoing and dynamic and cool and all of the things Fat Charlie isn't. A brother who he makes the mistake of getting in touch with. And then his life starts falling apart. Birds and lions rejoin their ancient wars with spiders, reality ends up being more malleable than Fat Charlie had ever realized, and he discovers just how evil a stoat can be.

Neil Gaiman has gone from a comic book writer with cult popularity to someone who's books debut at the top of the New York Times best-seller list, and every step along the way has been well-deserved. Anansi Boys is his latest and one of the most anticipated novels of 2005. It lives up to the hype, but at the same time it may not be the book that people were expecting.

First, it's not a sequel, prequel, or in any way related to American Gods, except that Mr. Nancy (Anansi) appears in both books. The capability of gods is vaguely similar, but the tone, the subject matter, and the style of the book are significantly different and there is no connection of plot. It is also not a heavy book; in fact, it's the most light-hearted adult book from Gaiman since Stardust and in tone feels more like Good Omens (without, of course, the Pratchett). There isn't much of Gaiman's surprisingly deep philosophy, nor the borderline horror that turns up in places in American Gods.

What this is instead is a delightful, humorous homage to the Anansi stories of west African folklore, the stories that many Americans know best in their Uncle Remus Br'er Rabbit version (and Gaiman points out several times how silly it is to confuse a rabbit and a spider). It's a book full of moral ambiguities, strange characters, animal gods, and dry wit in the face of absurdity. It's a book about breaking out of a normal life, taking riskier choices, and defeating brute violence through intelligent cunning and trickery. It's also a book that comments on the stupidity of flamingoes. At first I was a touch disappointed that Anansi Boys didn't have the philosophical depth of some of Gaiman's earlier work, but it's so much fun that I couldn't help but forgive it.

Much of the charm of this book is Gaiman's mastery of metaphor. Rather than simply use a metaphor as part of a description, Gaiman plays with them, leading the reader by the hand into the heart of the absurd truth and expanding on the metaphor just enough to leave one laughing and nodding at the same time.

"I won't live forever," sniffed her mother, in a way that implied that she had every intention of living forever, getting harder and thinner and more stonelike as she went, and eating less and less, until she would be able to live on nothing more than air and wax fruit and spite.

And yet, he never belabors the point, knowing just when to let it go and move on. It's a delight, and only one of the many proofs of Gaiman's writing skill that shine through every line. Regardless of theme, Gaiman is simply an excellent writer and storyteller, and he captures the entertainment and moral barbs of an oral tradition wonderfully.

I don't know if all of this will survive to a paperback printing, but the hardcover of Anansi Boys is also beautifully typeset and laid out. It is one of the most beautifully readable books I've read recently, sufficiently so that it stands out from the pack. It's full of little touches like carefully chosen varying font sizes for Gaiman's chapter subtitles or Gaiman's own sketch of a spider on the last page, and the font, layout, and section markings are uniformly readable and clear. William Morrow did a commendable job.

For those who have read Gaiman's other work, Anansi Boys will feel like a new story from an old friend. For those who haven't, I think it falls short of his best work by a hair but it would be an excellent introduction. The people are a bit more exaggerated and the morals less disguised, which means it didn't leave me thinking about people and philosophy for as long afterwards as Gaiman has in the past, but the delight of the humor and quality of the writing makes up for that. Arachnophobes will have difficulty with a few scenes; otherwise, recommended for readers of nearly any taste. If you like fantasy, mythology, and fairy tale at all, Gaiman won't disappoint.

Rating: 9 out of 10

2005-12-31: Happy new year!

Happy new year everyone!

My mood for the day was thrown for a bit of a loop when haven (the system behind www.eyrie.org, as well as a mail server and shell account server) crashed for reasons as yet undetermined. I was afraid it was going to have to be down until Tuesday when I get back from vacation, but Quanah was kind enough to go reboot it for me, so it's back up now. Hopefully whatever caused it to shut down won't repeat, or at least will hold off until I get back into town.

I was going to get some other things done today, including finishing Charles Stross's Accelerando and writing a review to add it to my 2005 reading, but with that throwing me off and other things going on, I didn't get to any of it. It will have to start off next year's reviews.

A reading summary for 2005 will be coming, probably tomorrow.

The massive producitivity streak that I had last week lasted into the weekend but has now worn off. I got a few other things done this past week, but at a much slower rate (and my reading rate increased significantly). I don't mind at all; this is how mood cycles always work for me. Getting things done will be a bit of effort for a while, and then I'll have another productive streak. In the meantime, I've still managed to push through and get a few other things done; a new version of kstart will probably be out tomorrow or Monday.

New versions of remctl and kftgt still need to be released with additional bug fixes that Quanah found while building them for our pubsw platforms. That will either happen this weekend or shortly after I get back. I've done the next version of the remctl protocol design in my head and just need to write it down, so that will probably be what I'll work on first thing when I get back to work.

INN 2.4.3 is probably ready to go. headwall has been running it for a while without any noticable problems (although I haven't been looking at the logs closely; I probably should). I'll make it official in a few days.

Still to be done are catching up on rec.arts.comics.creative archiving and finishing the next News::Gateway release, as well as some podlators work and various pending Debian things, but some of that will wait for another productive streak or can be sprinkled among regular work.

Last modified and spun 2017-03-25